Cerberus Shoal – And Farewell to Hightide

Cerberus Shoal
And Farewell to Hightide

After listening to the two most recent Cerberus Shoal albums repeatedly for the past few months, I am now in the process of hunting down this amazing band’s back catalog. And I’m so far amazed and delighted to find that their older songs, while clearly showing the band still developing the direction that they will eventually be headed, are equally as powerful and beautiful. This album, recorded in 1996, has been re-mastered and re-released, so I suppose that’s the timeliness hook.
Cerberus Shoal play a very unique style of music that falls somewhere between instrumental tribal music and rock. Yes, that’s a great big opening, but Cerberus Shoal bridge that gap perfectly. Combining a host of instrumentation, including flutes, violins, trumpet, congas, piano and more eccentric instruments, the band creates living, breathing music that flows perfectly and has a brilliant power of its own. While their later works are more heavily instrumental, resembling Mogwai and perhaps Godspeed You Black Emperor! with tribal influences, vocals are used more heavily on this release. And they often posses a heartwrenching power all their own.
We start off here with “Falling to Pieces Part One,” a more somber affair, softer and yet possessing a kind of ebb and flow that merges well with the soaring vocals. “Broken Springs Spring Forth From Broken Clocks,” in addition to having a great title, is a 9-minute affair that literally grows, springing forth and expanding throughout, never falling into the repetitious doldroms that many instrumental bands are susceptible to but continually evolving, never getting too fast or too slow. Ah, I so love this band. The percussion here, heavily augmented by congas, is just stellar, and it flows with the guitars in a melodic, Tristeza-esque way. “J.B.O. vs. Blin” is a bit different for the band. The softly spoken vocals on this 11-minute song remind me of earlier emo songs, and the soft bass and horns in the background complement the vocals beautifully. The singing comes in very sad and lofty. “Make Winter a Driving Song” is a beautiful instrumental, more melodic and flowing with elements of emphasis. And “Falling to Pieces Part Two” finishes things off with singer Chriss Sutherland speaking again to soft, piano-driven music, flute and bass swirling around the piano and vocals. It’s an interesting, compelling effect.
And Farewell to Hightide is a bit more relaxed and laid back than the band’s later albums, which tend to offer a bit more power and emphasis on a more ethnic or tribal instrumentation. But this album is no means worse. Instead, it’s a bit more subtle and melodic, offering beauty and flowing music in place of the power and emphasis. Cerberus Shoal never ceases to amaze me with their unique and beautiful music.